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Texas sues for federal approval of voter ID law

January 23, 2012 |  1:35 pm

Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott says the state is suing to allow enforcement of its controversial voter identification law
Texas' attorney general announced Monday that the state has sued in federal court for permission to enforce its controversial voter identification law.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional," Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott said in a statement released to The Times. "Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. To fast-track that authority, Texas is taking legal action in a D.C. court seeking approval of its voter identification law."

Under the law passed in Texas last year, voters must show government-issued photo identification in order to cast their ballots at polling places. Texans who do not already have a driver's license, passport, military identification card or other identification can apply to the Texas Department of Public Safety for a free, state-issued voter identification card.

Members of the Texas Legislature say the voter identification law is meant to deter and detect election fraud. But U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has warned that such laws could disenfranchise minority voters, as opponents have argued in Texas and other states.

In a decision upholding a similar voter identification law in Indiana, the U.S. Supreme Court found that states have an "interest in deterring and detecting voter fraud," which Abbott's office said Monday is its focus.

Federal prosecutors have secured election-fraud convictions against more than a hundred defendants since 2002, according to the Department of Justice. During the same period, Abbott's office has prosecuted nearly 50 people for violating the Texas Election Code. Those convictions include a woman who submitted her dead mother's ballot, an activist who cast ballots for elderly voters and a city council member who registered ineligible foreign citizens to vote for her, according to Monday's statement.

Although Indiana and other states have enforced their voter identification laws, Texas has had to wait because the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits changes to Texas election laws until they are granted "preclearance" by either the Department of Justice or the federal courts. The Texas secretary of state's office sought preclearance from the Justice Department last July, but federal officials were still reviewing the case this week.

More than a dozen states have passed voter identification laws, including a handful last year: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The laws have already taken effect in Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

In December, Justice Department officials refused to preclear South Carolina's voter identification law, citing the effect on minority voters.

Abbott says he still plans to pursue approval of the voter ID law with the Justice Department and, if it's granted, plans to drop the federal suit.

"The dual track approach is intended to facilitate the fastest possible resolution so that Texas can implement the new law as soon as possible," Abbott's office said in Monday's statement.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott. Credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press

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